Not all draft picks are created equal. Selections in the top 10 can make more than $30 million guaranteed out of the gate. First-rounders can have a fifth season exercised by the team on a four-year rookie deal. The last pick of the entire draft receives a tongue-in-cheek *nom de fume* and a gala in Newport Beach.
What about the picks that almost weren't? The compensatory picks, derived by the shadowy NFL Management Council's proprietary formula. The parting gifts meant to replace the space vacated on rosters by a team's departed free agents -- though can they ever truly be replaced in our hearts?
If you need a refresher on the compensatory pick system, here goes: A total of 32 compensatory picks are awarded to teams based on the players they lost or gained during free agency in the year prior. This allows clubs that have lost free agents to another team to use the draft to attempt to fill the void. The value of compensatory FAs gained or lost by each team is calculated by the "proprietary formula" and a club is awarded picks of equal value to its net loss of such FAs, up to four. The picks come at the end of Rounds 3 through 7.
This year's compensatory picks have been released. The only team with the maximum four picks is the New England Patriots. In honor of the release, we're ranking the top 10 compensatory picks of the past decade, the guys who landed with teams rewarded for losing and/or frugality, the humans who turned nothing into something for their respective organizations. Below are the most impactful compensatory picks since 2010. Not so impactful that they broke their quarterback's jaw, as IK Enemkpali (Round 6, No. 210, 2014) did, but you get the picture.
10) Justin Simmons, S, Broncos
2016 NFL Draft: Round 3, Pick No. 98
I could've gone a bunch of different directions, from shouting out veteran tackles Kelvin Beachum and Rick Wagner to including established linebackers Vince Williams and Pernell McPhee. By sheer production and years of service, any one of that quartet has certainly had more quantifiable impact on football since being selected with a compensatory pick. But instead, I chose the hot, young thing in Simmons, a reliable player who, hiding away on a boring Broncos team for the last four years, doesn't yet have the national recognition his play deserves. A second-team All-Pro at free safety in 2019, Simmons has played 100 percent of Denver's defensive snaps over the last two seasons. The impending free agent won't hit the open market; executive John Elway said last month that if the team and Simmons can't work out a long-term deal, the Broncos will place the franchise tag on him before the deadline.
9) Kurt Coleman, S, Eagles/Vikings/Chiefs/Panthers/Saints/Bills
2010 NFL Draft: Round 7, Pick No. 244
Coleman's had a roller-coaster career since Philadelphia snagged him deep in the 2010 draft. The safety has spent time on six different organizations, but hasn't stayed or had sustained success with any one in particular to merit a higher ranking on this list. Coleman's best years came on the Panthers, who acquired him after three clubs had let him go in the span of 15 months. During Carolina's Super Bowl run in 2015, Coleman recorded a career-high seven picks, but he has yet to reach that level of production again. The 31-year-old safety played 14 games for the Bills last season, but logged more than three-quarters of his snaps on special teams. With 146 games played to his name, Coleman was the most seasoned comp pick of the past decade.
8) Malcolm Smith, LB, Seahawks/Raiders/49ers/Jaguars/Cowboys
2011 NFL Draft: Round 7, Pick 242
By most metrics, Smith doesn't even belong on this list. After promising-ish stints in Seattle and Oakland, the linebacker didn't live up to the sizable five-year contract he signed with San Francisco in 2017. Smith spent last summer with the 49ers before being cut in late August, spending just two weeks in Jacksonville and then playing meaningful snaps in Dallas' final two games. But the linebacker can claim something none of these other Joes can: Super Bowl MVP honors. That's right. Remember the Seahawks' 43-8 destruction of Denver in Super Bowl XLVIII when Seattle won on the backbone of its defense, special teams and that high snap from Manny Ramirez? Smith's 69-yard pick-six late in the first half helped cement the victory and his place as the first defensive player to win SB MVP since Dexter Jackson in 2003. (Of course, Denver LB Von Miller won it two years later.) Super Bowl MVP as a seventh-round pick? That's gotta count for something, even if it is just low standing on a contrived offseason listicle.
7) Blake Martinez, LB, Packers
2016 NFL Draft: Round 4, Pick No. 131
Not unlike Simmons, Martinez has looked on occasion to be a defensive building block in Green Bay. A Packers starter for the last three years, no player has more tackles since 2017 than Martinez, per Pro Football Reference; his 443 combined tackles over that span rank higher than Bobby Wagner and Luke Kuechly, both of whom are surefire Hall of Famers. All that being said, Martinez might not be long for Green Bay; an unrestricted free agent-to-be, the inside linebacker is coming off arguably his least impressive season as a pro. But that fact doesn't overshadow his compilation of tackles and reliability on the field; Martinez hasn't missed a game in three years and has logged at least 99 percent of Green Bay's defensive snaps over the past two seasons.
6) Marlon Mack, RB, Colts
2017 NFL Draft: Round 4, Pick No. 143
5) James Conner, RB, Steelers
2017 NFL Draft: Round 3, Pick No. 105
4) Aaron Jones, RB, Packers
2017 NFL Draft: Round 5, Pick No. 182
We have now reached the offensive (aw-, not uh-) portion of our program. Three running backs from the tailback-stacked 2017 draft, all of whom were comp picks, are pitted against one another in the middle of this ranking. Mack, Conner and Jones have all seen their respective roles gradually grow since their selection three years ago, from sub-century-carry backups to bona fide starters. Though Mack had the most prolific rookie year, Conner launched into public consciousness first with a 13-touchdown sophomore campaign, in which he filled in for Steelers icon Le'Veon Bell. That breakout season launched Conner to fourth when I performed this same ranking one year ago; Mack, with over 1,000 yards from scrimmage and 10 total TDs, was fittingly 10th, while Jones, who led the league with 5.5 yards per attempt but didn't see enough action, was first off the board.
Conner's crowning was a hair presumptuous. The Steelers back fell back to Earth during Pittsburgh's strange 2019 season and missed six games with myriad injuries, which cut into his production but wasn't the cause of his career-worst 4.0 YPA. Meanwhile, Jones blew past expectations, recording a league-high 16 rushing TDs, and 19 total, as one of only two reliable Packers weapons for Aaron Rodgers. He became the dual-threat back that Conner was in 2018 and the one Mack has yet to prove he can be. All three backs have staying power and arguments for second contracts with their respective teams when the time comes. But so far, Jones' career has proven to be the most statistically impressive and impactful; no RB from the loaded 2017 class, which includes Christian McCaffrey, Alvin Kamara and Joe Mixon, among others, has more rushing scores than Jones (28).
3) Kyle Juszczyk, RB, Ravens/49ers
2013 NFL Draft: Round 4, Pick No. 130
A fullback?! Yes, a fullback. A fullback with four Pro Bowls to his name, more than any other player on this list, and a four-year contract that averages $5.3 million per year. Juice, as he is known because his last name is perhaps the most difficult league-wide to spell without Googling it first, was a stud blocker and receiving threat in Baltimore and has continued to stand out in San Francisco, where he has averaged 10.6 yards per reception since joining the team in 2017. An anchor on the 49ers' Super Bowl squad, Juszczyk was instrumental in paving the way for a ground attack that ran for a whopping 612 yards in three postseason games; he also became the first fullback to score a TD in the Super Bowl in 17 years. In a league that has mostly eliminated the fullback, tossing it on the pigskin scrap heap alongside leather helmets, onside kicks and lead-footed signal-callers, Juszczyk has carved out his own lane, and that of his backfield compatriots on both coasts.
2) Mike Daniels, DT, Packers/Lions
2012 NFL Draft: Round 4, Pick No. 132
Daniels, regarded for much of the decade as one of the league's superior interior linemen, finished atop this list one year ago. With the Packers, Daniels earned -- and then lived up to -- a $41 million extension signed in 2015, and while only making the Pro Bowl once (2017), the tackle was a consistent run-stuffer on Green Bay's defensive line and a colorful character as comfortable wearing NFL Films mics as he was lighting up the likes of Russell Wilson and Sam Bradford. Daniels performed at an above-average or elite level for the same team over an extended period of time, which ensured top billing on last year's ranking. That was until he was released by Green Bay last offseason and then played just nine games with the Lions in 2019, mainly as a rotational player. Daniels' down year, coupled with the top-ranked player's continued ascendency, caused the free-agent defensive tackle to settle for silver in this year's proceedings.
1) Dak Prescott, QB, Cowboys
2016 NFL Draft: Round 4, Pick No. 135
At this stage in his career, Prescott would surely prefer to rank atop a different list or chart. Perhaps that of the highest-paid quarterbacks/players in the league -- I dunno, I'm just spitballing. But until then, the Cowboys quarterback can take this honor as consolation for his humble rise from fourth-round third-stringer to best comp pick of the 2010s. The 2016 Offensive Rookie of the Year is the only QB on this ranking and the only one from the decade worth considering, beating out Will Grier, Tom Savage, Trevor Siemian, C.J. Beathard and Cardale Jones. That's because it's hard to hit on a QB if you're not taking one in the first two rounds -- and even that's not a sure thing (see: Paxton Lynch, Christian Hackenberg). Of the 31 other primary starting QBs from 2019, only five were drafted lower than Prescott's No. 135 slot (Gardner Minshew, 178; Tom Brady, 199; Ryan Fitzpatrick, 250; Case Keenum, undrafted; Kyle Allen, undrafted).
Bested by Daniels last year, Prescott deserves that number one spot (Luda!) this time around. In his fourth season, the Cowboys QB set career marks in passing yards (4,902) and touchdown passes (30). His yards per attempt climbed to a career-high 8.2, and Prescott took a career-low 23 sacks. And yet, Dallas slogged to an 8-8 record, its worst with Prescott under center, a backhanded compliment for a QB yet to get over the hump financially or competitively. Whether or not he gets the league-breaking deal this offseason that would keep him in Dallas for the foreseeable future, though, Prescott, a two-time Pro Bowl quarterback of "America's Team" who is 16 games over .500 and hasn't missed a start in four seasons, has already had an outsize influence on the NFL, especially for a mid-draft comp pick.
Also considered (listed with their drafting teams):D.J. Alexander, LB/ST, Chiefs; Kelvin Beachum, OT, Steelers; Jatavis Brown, LB, Chargers; Alex Collins, RB, Seahawks; Quincy Enunwa, WR, Jets; Graham Glasgow, OG, Lions; Mark Glowinski, OG, Seahawks; Cole Holcomb, LB, Redskins; Ryan Jensen, OL, Ravens; Devon Kennard, LB, Giants; Pernell McPhee, LB, Ravens; Foster Moreau, TE, Raiders; Steven Nelson, CB, Chiefs; Elandon Roberts, LB/FB, Patriots; Richard Rodgers, TE, Packers; Darius Slayton, WR, Giants; Jonnu Smith, TE, Titans; Marquez Valdes-Scantling, WR, Packers; Rick Wagner, OT, Ravens; Vince Williams, LB, Steelers.